'The Contributor' sues Brentwood over alleged civil rights violations

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 4:44pm

The Contributor, Nashville’s street newspaper, sued the city of Brentwood Wednesday to stop police from giving tickets to homeless people for selling the paper in public places.

The ACLU, which is representing The Contributor in the federal civil rights lawsuit, said Brentwood was violating the newspaper’s free speech and free press rights.

The Contributor, which sells for $1, is printed by a nonprofit organization to educate the public about homelessness and to help the homeless financially. Nearly 400 homeless and formerly homeless people sold 117,000 copies in the last month. Selling it has helped some earn enough money to find homes.

“This newspaper is all about the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great,” said Calvin Hart, one of the newspaper’s vendors who was ticketed in Brentwood and joined the lawsuit as one plaintiff. “The selling of this newspaper is important because it allows the people in the community to directly help the less fortunate. It’s a win-win situation.”

Brentwood city attorney Roger Horner did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. The city says The Contributor is violating an ordinance that bans the sale of merchandise on “any portion of the public street, alley, sidewalk or right of way …”

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the Brentwood ordinance unconstitutional. A Brentwood judge upheld the ordinance in March, forcing The Contributor to pay a fine of $200.

“Our mission at The Contributor is to highlight issues faced by those in the homeless and poverty populations. The city of Brentwood is not only limiting our message but also our efforts to create a sense of community between our vendors and our customers,” said Tasha French, executive director of The Contributor.

The City of Brentwood issued a statement Wednesday evening saying its primary concern is public safety, and that its ordinance is applied equally. 

"Walking into a public street to sell newspapers or anything else creates a safety risk," the statement said. "It is not the city's intention to prohibit the sale of newspapers, nor does the city wish to discriminate against anyone, including persons who happen to be homeless." 

52 Comments on this post:

By: mbh68 on 10/21/11 at 10:22

My problem has never been whether the "salespeople" are white or black, clean or dirty, homeless or formerly homeless. My problem with this "newspaper" is that I don't believe that this is an acceptable way to teach people to earn money. Standing on a street corner selling newspapers is not a job. It's thinly veiled panhandling. What is The Contributor doing to get people into REAL jobs? Do they provide drug rehabilitation services? Do they shuttle these "homeless" to any of the local fast food, dry cleaning, retail, or restaurant establishments to fill out job applications? I see these men and women standing on a street corner sometimes just a hundred yards away from a business with a "HELP WANTED" or "NOW HIRING" sign in the window. I'm sorry, but when I'm driving home from my retail job, or from cleaning someone's house, earning extra money, I'm not giving a dollar to every one of these people I see on the street corner. And it is infuriating to me that I'm supposed to just hand over money that I just put in long or strenuous hours to earn to someone just standing on a street corner. Sorry, but that's not respectable employment, and I'm never going to reward any of the dozen people I see on my trek home with my hard-earned money. Even though I think that Brentwood will probably lose/has already lost this battle because people want to make you feel bad for wanting to live in a neighborhood without having vagrants standing at every street corner because "that's not fair" and "you must be a snob," I applaud them for putting up the fight to keep these people out of their city as far as they can. I live in a nice neighborhood and my husband and I both work so that we can do so. If you want to really help homeless, give them job skills and training and drug/alcohol abuse rehab so that they can be productive members of the community working at a real job instead of participating in glorified panhandling.

And to the idiot that says this is a positive thing that "gets them off the streets," did you notice where they're selling the newspaper?? ON THE STREET. Jesus.

By: whitegravy on 6/16/12 at 3:55

My fellow Americans, I read some interesting comments about the "CONTRIBUTOR" sueing Brentwood. They run the gamut from pro to con much like our society on any given issue.
On the one hand, the paper helps more people than it hurts, and with a monthly sales volume of 117000 copies, someone is interested in people at the low end of the economic scale. Sure its not pulitzer prize stuff, but among other things it gives a voice to formerly voiceless people.
On the other hand the real issue isnt constitutional, but basic PUBLIC SAFETY. Im from Los Angeles and at any given time youll see people vending everything from flowers to watches on street medians.
But you wont see street vendors on BEVERLY HILLS or MALIBU medians. Its partly a class thing and partly a public safety thing.
The beauty of America is that you can start as a street vendor where the stress level is low and start to feel like a productive citizen again, and thats got to count for something.